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Plant Chemicals are a Trick or Treat for Insects

Plant Chemicals are a Trick or Treat for Insects. Photo of Researchers tending tomato plants caged for their experiment; photo courtesy of William C. Wetzel.

Plants contain a mixture of hundreds of unique chemicals that can attract or repel pests like caterpillars. For the caterpillar, this means they can choose from a buffet of tasty plants with varying phytochemicals. Some choices are a beneficial treat while others are a trick with toxic effects. For researchers, it offers potential to manipulate the chemicals in a mix of crop varieties to create plantings less attractive to pests.

Entomologists at Michigan State University (MSU) have manipulated phytochemical (plant chemical) diversity using 16 genotypes of tomatoes and measured the response of a common caterpillar, the cabbage looper. MSU’s work is supported in part by a grant from NIFA’s ’ Agriculture and Food Research Initiative program. Their findings were recently published in the journal Ecology. For more information, read the Michigan State University article.

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